In today’s epistle, Paul writes a cryptic remark when he states . . . “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. What do you think he means by that . . . the assurance of things hoped for . . . and the conviction of things not seen?
All of us, I am sure, have faith to one degree or another. But I think that most of us would agree that we do not have nearly enough of it. Why is that? Do we not believe strongly enough? Is our sense of the spiritual world not quite whole? Why do we always feel like we are somehow lacking in faith? Especially when faced with some of the more debilitating slings and arrows of life.
Jesus tells us that if we have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, that we can move mountains. Nothing is insurmountable. Yet most of us have a hard time finding enough faith to just get out of bed in the morning.
So what is faith? And how do we find it? And most importantly, how do we keep it once we’ve got it? These are the questions we need to think about this morning.
A friend of mine, who was an agnostic, once told me that “Faith is like trying to find a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there”. Meaning he thought faith was a trick of nature played by God on all his people. In his agnostic frame of mind, he believed that God . . . if he did exist, was pushing our buttons ‘sort of speak’ when it came to the issue of faith. That faith, like hope, was a figment of our collective imaginations.
But, I can tell you that it is nothing of the sort. Faith is as real, or perhaps even ‘realer’ than the pews you are sitting on. Though you cannot see it or hold it, it is here none the less. Like love and grace, faith, can be perceived best in those who have it.
Have you ever known someone who exuded an aura of goodness around him or her? Not the current vernacular aura of new age science, but an almost perceptible force of goodness surrounding them. They might be anybody, rich or poor, young or old. But something is perceptively different about them that is different from almost every other person you might know. It is the feeling of ‘safe’ that you get when you are around them. Like in the midst of turmoil and explosive circumstances you know everything is okay, that everything will somehow be all right.
I felt this in a person a few weeks ago when she came to St. Nicholas for a visit. You may remember Ann Marie Zon, who came here to tell the story of the Nicaraguan Project. Her very presence was inspiring, to say the least. That day, she really didn’t have to actually say anything to get attention. To me it seemed as if the universe was focused in and around her. When she spoke, it was as if God himself was speaking to us using Marie’s lips. To me, it was quite dramatic. You got the impression that she believed so strongly, without a waiver in her voice, that she could do anything at all with a single whisper. That is what a strong faith looks like. That is what a strong faith is.
And that is what our faith ought to look like. But, many wonder, how do I find the faith I need to even begin to get started? The Bible tells us that faith comes from hearing the Word of God. That means that faith can be found in the stories of old, in the Bible. It can also be found in a preacher’s sermon, so long as it is Biblically based. It can be found in the prayers of the faithful, for that too is the word of God as it is brought forth into the world; and it can be found in the words and meditations of our own hearts, for even there God lives within us.
But, the hardest part about finding faith is that there are so many other things that distract us from recognizing it when it is right on top of us. All too often the TV is blaring, the CD player is running, the kids are shouting and neighbor’s lawn mower is going. There is no time with work, responsibilities and the business of life to simply stop . . . and say ‘Lord help me have the faith I need to be whole’. But we all need to know that, that is exactly what He is waiting to hear from us. A time to be holy . . . ‘apart from our everyday lives’ where God has our undivided attention.
For myself, I find this time of reflection in reading books and in writing sermons like this one. Writing sermons, actually makes me read the bible. It actually makes me think about something other than the gas bill or the insurance payment. It actually puts me alone in a room with God (which can be a scary thought at times). Somehow, it makes it possible for God to get my full attention, and for those of you who know me, I am usually thinking about ten things at once most of the time. At work, I may be the king of multi-tasking; but not when it comes to this special time in my life. But best of all, it makes a time when I have God’s attention. I think about us, here at St. Nicholas’, and the problems I know some of you are facing. I think about the readings and what they might be saying to me and to you. I think about my place in the universe and God’s control over almost all that I am. This is how you find faith . . . through prayer and gentle conversation with God and in reading and re-reading the Story . . . The Story with the capital ‘S’ so that you might know it backwards and forwards and inside and out.
Well, you might think that’s great for you, Fr. Ed, you have to write sermons, and you are expected to meditate . . . you’re the priest! But that’s where you think wrong. We are all God’s children. We are all God’s ministers. Should He not expect something from each and every one of us? Perhaps not a sermon . . . or a journal entry, but maybe just fifteen minutes to just ‘check in’ with him?
In today’s Gospel Jesus talks about preparedness and how important it is to our faith should something befall us. Obviously, if we knew a flood would happen here in Buffalo tomorrow, we would all head for the hills. We would take some precautions at least to keep ourselves and our family’s safe. God tells us that there is a spiritual battle approaching and that we ought to be prepared, even though we have no idea when to expect it. Keeping our faith strong is part of the preparedness he is talking about.
Little kids have this spirit of preparedness, especially around Christmas time. Little kids around that time of the year, live in constant expectation. They all experience the assurance of things hoped for and they all hold the conviction of things unseen. Why? Because they trust in their mommies and daddies to provide them with all the things they desire. And on Christmas morning they awaken to the climax of Christmas when the faith they hold is transposed into real blessings that they can see and touch and rejoice in.
Wouldn’t it be something if grown-ups could live like their kids at Christmas time; always in joyful expectation of a miracle around the corne? Isn’t that what Jesus tells. . . to enter the kingdom as a little child with eyes wide in joyful expectation! That, my friends, is faith and that is the kind of faith we should be praying for.
The final question is once we have this faith, how do we keep it? All too often we find ourselves on the downward side of the mountain. Something wonderful happens, but all of a sudden reality comes crashing through the gates of our bliss and we find ourselves alone with our old thoughts and in our old lives. These down periods are devastating to faith because they chip away at our belief, at our religion and at our psyche. We can combat these feelings by staying connected, especially to each other. Like recovering alcoholics, we need a support structure to help us through the more difficult times of our lives. For most of us, our support structure is our families; but all too often we forget that our church companions can offer great assistance that sometimes our families cannot. All too often though, we think that we don’t want to burden our friends with our problems. But, that is exactly what we are supposed to do.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Let us prayerfully accept the limitations of our lives while we pray for faith to be revealed in each and every one of us. Amen